Most of Me: Surviving My Medical Meltdown
by Robyn Michelle Levy

for Canadian readers

Greystone Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-553-65632-6.
Reviewed by Olga Livshin
Posted on 04/26/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir

Sometimes, laughter is the only way to deflect despair. Robyn Michelle Levy knows it from personal experience. Her memoir Most of Me is simultaneously amusing and poignant. From the first word, the story pulled me in and never let go, and the pages practically turned themselves. But it was a harrowing read, too, because of the subject matter: a serious, life-altering illness. Or rather two of them at once.

With poise, candor, and self-deprecating humor, Levy writes about her medical plight. At the age of 43, she was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's. Eight months later, while still reconciling her debilitating affliction, she added breast cancer to her list of maladies. So far, she has won both battles.

Her memoir covers several years before and after her diagnoses. The book starts with 'before,' when the author struggled with her deteriorating health and bouts of depression without knowing why. Her immediate family—husband and teenage daughter—were often on the receiving end of her black moods, and afterwards, she was swamped by remorse. Then the bomb of Parkinson's exploded in her face.

Throughout the book, Levy is relentlessly honest, as she chronicles her seething cauldron of emotions: anger and guilt, shame and acceptance, terror of impending diapers and determination to survive. She also details the support and affection she received from her friends and family during her arduous medical journey. In a way, the book is a tribute to her loved ones, although the writing never slides towards melodrama. Funny asides and droll observations keep the narrative balanced on a tasteful line between mushy and tragic.

One of the grimmest problems the author faced after each of her two diagnoses was how to tell her thirteen-year-old daughter. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Levy's father was diagnosed with Parkinson's a couple years before. She writes: "We're in the same sinking boat now: daughters coping with parents who have Parkinson's. Under these circumstances, how can anything be OK? How can we get through this together, when I'm falling apart?"

Tears sprang to my eyes when I read those and similar lines. But more often than not, a morbid joke was only one step behind. Laughter and gentle self-mockery permeate the book. No dysfunction of the writer's ailing body is off-limits to her irreverent keyboard, even when breast cancer piles on top of Parkinson's. In her bleakest moments, humor sparkles, as she describes her recovery after mastectomy; outlines her wrestling with the question: chemo or no chemo; or tells us about naming her prosthetic breast Dolores. "If I don't laugh I would cry," she writes.

The same applies to me, as a reader. If I didn't smile so often while reading the book I would've cried too. Books about illnesses are always emotionally draining, and this one was no exception. I wanted to protect myself from the author's pain, but even more I wanted to understand how she found the strength to deal with her "diverse disease portfolio." I read the book, and grinned, and chuckled, and learned from Levy's courage.

Definitely recommended to anyone.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Robyn Michele Levy is a visual artist, radio broadcaster, and writer. At age forty-three, Robyn Levy was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and eight months later with breast cancer. She lives with her family and her remaining body parts in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her blog is filled with her funny drawings and animation.

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